Tragic deaths of home-schooled kids rarely lead to new rules

A Detroit brother and sister vanished more than two years before they were found dead in a freezer in their home, and an 11-year-old Florida girl disappeared more than a year before she, too, turned up in a family freezer. And a 7-year-old Kansas boy hadn’t been seen for more than a month before authorities found the gruesome remains of a child in a pigsty inside his family’s barn.

All of them were home-schooled, but despite their disappearances going unnoticed for so long, opposition from the government-wary home-schooling community means it’s unlikely these states will start keeping closer tabs on home-schooled children.

“It’s largely a conservative thing, but even progressive home-schoolers tend to resist oversight,” said Rachel Coleman, co-founder of the nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Home Education. “Part of it is because there is an assumption that parents always know what’s best for their children.”

The most recent case, at a home near Kansas City, Kansas, is still being investigated and authorities said it could be weeks before they positively identify the child whose remains officers found in the barn. The officers were responding to a reported domestic disturbance at the home the day before Thanksgiving and were told of the 7-year-old’s disappearance.

His stepmother, Heather Jones, told The Associated Press that her husband, Michael A. Jones, abused her and their son, Adrian, and that she feared he was going to kill her and their six daughters because she found out he had killed the boy.

Authorities haven’t said when they believe the boy went missing, but they said they think he was abused between May 1 and Sept. 28.

Michael Jones has been charged with child abuse, aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a firearm. No charges have been filed in connection with his son’s disappearance or the discovery of the remains. He didn’t have an attorney as of Friday, but his father has described him as a “caring and outstanding person” who wouldn’t hurt a child.

Such cases are horrific but they don’t typically lead to new restrictions on home-schooling, which many parents see as their deeply personal right, said Rob Kunzman, director of the International Center for Home Education Research at Indiana University.

“They oftentimes create a short-term effort to increase regulation in the state where it happens, but rarely does this result in increased regulation because of the influence of home-school advocacy groups,” he said.

Although the number of home-schooled students jumped nationwide to about 1.7 million between 2003 and 2012, they still represent just over 3 percent of all students, Coleman said, adding that the relatively low number plays into the general public’s apathy toward home-schooling issues.

For home-schoolers, the emotionally charged argument against additional oversight is that parents, not the government, know what’s best for their children.

“As many as two-thirds are home-schooling in part for religious reasons,” Coleman said. “Part of that for conservative Christians is that God has given that child to the parents, not the state. The state doesn’t own my child, God has entrusted my child to me.”

Eleven states do not require parents to notify state or local officials that their children will be home-schooled, while 10 states require parents to file a one-time notice when they first start home schooling, but nothing further, Coleman said.

The other 29 states require parents to file an annual notice of home schooling. The information required to be included varies from state to state, with some requiring only the name of the home school and its administrator, while others require basic curriculum plans, student names and ages, and in some cases a copy of each student’s birth certificate.